On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put this point to you for guidance? I believe that it is hoped to conclude this part of our business round about seven o'clock. The commencement has been very seriously delayed, and might I suggest with respect that when we approach the expected hour of conclusion you will use your discretion?
I beg to move,
That this House regrets the financial losses caused by the collapse of the Gambia Poultry Scheme, which had been launched without adequate consultation or any preliminary pilot scheme to discover whether the poultry could be kept in healthy production or the necessary feedingstuffs grown in the Colony.
The facts which I hope to give to the House today were in order and were accurate up to the time that this debate was due to start. I must express the hope that events have not moved so fast in Gambia in the last hour that I may be guilty of giving the House any incorrect information.
I think that the whole House will have heard with distress, though some Members may not have heard it altogether with surprise, the statement made a few days ago on 28th February by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. A sum of £825,000 has already been advanced for this project and we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that a substantial part of this sum must be written off. We have not been told, I am glad to say, that it is financially prudent to write it off but it is none the less financially inevitable. In addition to that, we were told that some 30,000 of the birds have died and that it has now been discovered in Gambia that with our present knowledge it is not possible to grow a sufficient quantity of food to keep the scheme going, and, as the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly said, the scheme stands or falls by local production.
We have to face today a further heavy financial loss on the British taxpayer, and it comes on the eve of another Budget which is bound to put fresh burdens on our people. It must raise in the minds of everybody grave doubts as to whether this is the last of the many failures that must be attributed to the present Administration. I think one thing does emerge from a close study of this project—and I believe I am in tune with all Members of the House on this point—and that is that no blame whatever for this failure can attach to the noble Lord, the new Chairman of the Corporation, Lord Reith, who has acted promptly and honourably. Incidentally, may I say how very glad we are that since his arrival at the Corporation it has been much easier to get information about the various activities of the Corporation.
The House will remember that the scheme was originally designed to produce some 20 million eggs a year for the British market, and about one million lb. of dressed poultry for that market. At the moment a negligible quantity of poultry and some 38,000 eggs instead of 20 million have arrived, and we understand now that there are not likely to be further eggs, and that those that are produced will be consumed locally. Thirty-eight thousand eggs could be produced without any difficulty whatever by a few people on English smallholdings. If the £825,000 that has been spent had been spent on British agriculture, in getting feedingstuffs for our own producers, it has been calculated that some 72 million eggs could have been produced here in the United Kingdom.
Far from the scheme being self-supporting, they are unfortunately now being obliged to import feedingstuffs into the Gambia. From a Parliamentary reply given on 7th March we learned that some 2,394 tons of imported feedingstuffs had been necessary even to provide the meagre results so far attained. That amount of feedingstuffs, if imported into the United Kingdom, would have produced more than four million eggs. In addition, we understand, 300,000 precious dollars, much needed to buy animal feedingstuffs for people who could produce the eggs and do so in climates where they can rear poultry, have been spent on this project.
I am afraid that closer examination of this scheme reveals that it has all the hall marks, though on a smaller scale, of the Groundnuts Scheme. It is an irony that this Government, having failed to produce groundnuts in East Africa, have now gone for their egg project to the Gambia, where groundnuts flourish. In the last two years, side by side with the egg scheme in the Gambia, the producers there actually exported 60,000 tons of groundnuts each year, which is 12 times as much each year as the entire production for three years of the Government's Groundnuts Scheme, not bad for a country of about 250,000 people, and which is only half the size of Wales. Of course the production of groundnuts in the Gambia is in the hands of private enterprise who made what to the planner may be the mistake of going to a country where groundnuts grow and entrusting the growing of them to people who know how to do it.
As I say, this scheme bears all the hall marks of the Groundnuts Scheme. It has many similar features. As in East Africa, so in the Gambia, there was the same failure to have soil tests, the same failure to have rainfall tests, the same failure to have experimental plots, the same failure to experiment and see whether the birds could flourish or whether the crops could grow, the same failure to take any account of the lessons of the Colonial Office in its inquiry into mechanisation in tropical Africa, which was actually produced while this scheme was taking place, and the report of which came out last May, when doubts about this scheme were first becoming public property.
There has also, as the House knows, and as some of my hon. Friends will develop later, been a quite astonishingly failure to have any regard to the inquiries of the Medical Research Council who were carrying on precisely the same sort of inquiries into the same sort of problem at the same time in the Gambia. This would really be unbelievable had we not had our imaginations slightly expanded by the events of the last few years.
We hear precisely the same excuses as in East Africa. We were told by the Secretary of State for War in regard to East Africa that one of the reasons for the failure was that 1949 was a year of unexpected drought. In the Report on the Gambia for 1950 we are told that it has been a year of unexpected rainfall. Always the same reason, and the results are, I am afraid, so patent as scarcely to need statement in this House. There is growing cynicism and disillusion at home. There is, I am sorry to say, ridicule abroad. I should like to refer the right hon. Gentleman to a passage published recently in an American newspaper which is not always unfriendly to the present Administration of this country. It states:
Another ambitious British Socialist scheme flapped sadly home to roost last week. Horrified Britons realised each egg and each pound of poultry"—
in the Gambia—
cost around £8.
If there is disillusion at home and ridicule abroad there is more disillusion——
The journal "Time."
If there is disillusion at home and ridicule abroad there is also disillusion in Africa. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will not use the argument that this scheme was launched to develop the Gambia, or that having been launched and failed it has done some good to the Gambia. Surely this is not the way to help our Colonies. A derelict town at Kongwa, an abandoned scheme in the Gambia—these will not help to impress the Africans with modern methods of cultivation. They will further encourage him in the belief that his own ways are the best, and instead of helping progress they will retard development and prejudice all future schemes.
Nor does the comparison between the two schemes stop there. There is today, unfortunately, the same recognition that we have to write off substantial sums of capital. Three weeks ago we wrote off £36 million in East Africa for the groundnuts gamble, and in return, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) said, we learned two lessons; that, to use the words of the Corporation:
peculiarities…vary from farm to farm
and that the
groundnut is not a plant which lends itself readily to mass methods over vast acreages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 20th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1104.]
That cost £36 million. Today, we are writing off the greater part of £800,000 and all we have learned is that Gambia does not lend itself to the large scale production of animal feedingstuffs by mechanised processes.
Nor does the comparison stop there. Once more we are to have, as in East Africa, a pilot scheme too late, a pilot scheme when the money is already spent. It is the main part of our indictment of the Government today that the pilot scheme should have preceded the expenditure and not followed it.
Finally, in these comparisons there is a stranger similarity between the way in which the House and the country have been treated with regard to the facts and developments of these schemes. Although I continue, as I began, by saying that we certainly have the utmost confidence that the noble Lord who is at present in charge will never be guilty of lack of candour in the statements which he makes to the House and the public——
We certainly supported the marriage of State and private enterprise, but we made it quite plain at the start that we thought the best line for the Corporation to take would be to create the conditions under which efficient businesses could flourish, to concentrate, first and foremost, on communications, for example, and not to enter too much into the running of businesses on their own, and, above all, not to undertake too many businesses too soon.
I said that there had been the same lack of candour about taking the House and the country into the confidence of the Corporation as Ministers showed over the Groundnuts Scheme. There have been the same suggestions that there are hidden assets like timber which are to yield rich dividends. In the case of Tanganyika we were told of the great developments at Noli, where an elaborate sawmill was built to deal with what the Secretary of State for War called the dollar earner and the dollar saver—Tanganyikan timber. In the Gambia, we are told, in the First Annual Report, 1948, that
the proceeds from the sale of timber will substantially offset the cost of clearing the ground.
We now know that it will do nothing of the sort, that the timber has virtually no commercial value at the moment, and for export.
There have been the same re-assuring statements, and the same attacks on any criticism as were a feature in the case of the Groundnut Scheme, accompanied by a most extraordinary statement which, I am told, was issued by the Colonial Development Corporation, and which appeared in this week's issue of "Everybody's," which suggested that the debate could with advantage be put off though they recognised that it might not be politically expedient. Quite what was meant by that phrase I do not know, but I should have thought that a Corporation of this kind, which serves the country, which means all parties, was not interested in questions of political expediency or in the motives of any hon. Members, but only anxious to get on with its own job.
I said that there had been an astonishing lack of candour, and I think I must buttress up that general remark with one or two specific illustrations. Take the example of the poultry themselves. The
Annual Report of the Corporation for the year ending 1949 was presented to Parliament in July, 1950, and on page 2 it says:
the health…of the flocks"—
in the Gambia—
Yet a week ago we were told by the Secretary of State that that very summer—and it was in July that the statement was made—30,000 of the birds, three in every eight, died of fowl typhoid. In July we were told, with no hint of trouble to come, that the health of the flocks was excellent.
In the same Report we were told:
the …fertility of the flocks is excellent.
That came to the notice of the House in July, yet we now know that in March of last year Dr. Gordon of the Animal Health Trust had flown out to the Gambia to advise specifically on the failure of the fertility of the flocks. Again, in that same month, when Dr. Gordon was on his way to the Gambia, the Secretary of State said in this House, with no hint of trouble to come, that the scheme was proceeding satisfactorily.
So much for the poultry. I suppose the real, the greater, charge relates to the failure to appreciate the difficulties of growing the feedingstuffs, for on that the scheme has broken down. Now consider for a moment what Parliament has been told about that. In July, 1950, only last year, we were told in the Report:
There is good reason to expect that at least 50 per cent. of the food required will be locally produced this year"—
that is last year—
and it is hoped that 75 per cent. will be
locally produced in 1951. We now know from Parliamentary answers this week that 2,300-odd tons have been imported into the Gambia, and that last year alone, while this statement was being made, 1,417 tons were actually imported. On what possible basis could the assumption have been made, and the virtual undertaking given, that this year 75 per cent. of all the feedingstuffs would be produced in the Gambia.
Even more astonishing statements can be found if we turn to some of the statements made by the Minister of State for the Colonies, and in particular in some of
the airy assurances he gave in this House in April, 1950. He then repeated the old argument that there would be 20 million eggs in due course. He was quite rightly questioned from the Liberal benches with a whole series of very pertinent questions. At this time Dr. Gordon was already there, or had gone out and, as far as I know, was there. But no hint of the difficulty was allowed to creep into the Minister of State's answers. He was asked from the Liberal benches: What about soil erosion? What about vitamin deficiencies?—which must have been deeply agitating the Colonial Office at the time. Finally, in a very excellent question by the Liberal Whip he was asked whether the Gambia could not be helped in a more sensible way than this, in a better way. What did the right hon. Gentleman reply? When asked whether the Gambia could not be helped better in another way he replied:
as if this really was the way to help the Gambia. Then he added:
I think that this scheme is starting off very successfully."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 950.]
It is our contention that by that time anyhow there must have been the gravest doubts in the Colonial Office and the Overseas Food Corporation.
One or two organs of the Press took up this assurance, and the right hon. Gentleman was challenged on what he had said. Deep resentment of Press criticism has hitherto been marked by statements by the Corporation, in this case in a paper, "The Colonial Development Magazine," which is paid for by the taxpayer. The charges of one newspaper were catalogued, and the Corporation gave what they called "facts in answer" and this is a typical fact:
The farm is overcoming all its difficulties and is likely to achieve its target within the next 18 months.
That was only last summer. On the same day as that upon which the right hon. Gentleman made the other observation to which I have drawn attention, 26th April, he was asked specifically whether he was satisfied that there would be adequate feedingstuffs available, and he answered:
As far as I know.
Well, it is our contention that he would have known more than that. He added
what I must say seems to be rather incredible:
I should like questions of detail to be asked of the…Colonial Development Corporation. I am only responsible here for questions of general principle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 950.]
Yet was the supply of feedingstuffs a question of detail? Was it not a matter of general principle? In the words of his colleague, did not everything turn on it, for, as the Secretary of State said only a few days ago:
the scheme as originally conceived stands or falls by the local production of feeding-stuffs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1950; Vol. 484, c. 2105.]
The last of my quotations from HANSARD is even more recent. On 23rd October of last year the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food told the House:
we expect to receive about a quarter of a million eggs by the end of this year, 1950."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 303.]
Now, re regard it as inconceivable that by that time consideration had not been given to closing the scheme down altogether, or drastically curtailing it.
We shall await the reply of the Secretary of State with the very greatest interest. I think I know some of the arguments he may use. I hope he will not use, for example, arguments like this: "In all great pioneering ventures you must take risks." After all, it is indisputable, I think, that these risks need never have been taken, and that a little patient work—humbler, but patient work—would have made them unnecessary. Unnecessary and unjustified risks were taken which small scale experiments would have saved.
I hope again that the right hon. Gentleman will not say that it is to the advantage of the Colony to have a colossal failure planted in its midst. As I said before, nothing is more calculated to discredit Western ways than failures of this kind. The proper way to help in Gambia is, curiously enough, to be found in another publication of the right hon. Gentleman's Department in its references to the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund. What were they doing last year? Quite quietly, without any trumpets, they were providing storm water drainage, reclaiming the swamps in the Gambia, and improving mosquito control. That is the way to help a Colony, not to leave derelict illustrations of rash and foolhardy enterprises to be a problem for this and future generations.
I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will not say that this scheme must be judged in relation to all the other schemes; that this is only 3 per cent. of the output of the Colonial Development Corporation, and that there are 50 other schemes. We shall have a chance to debate the other schemes when the Report comes out—and there is every indication that we shall have that Report soon. Let not the right hon. Gentleman shelter behind the argument that there are 50 other schemes, for that also in our eyes is a great offence. To have 50 schemes in such a short time must mean that the schemes could not have been properly conceived. The proper way to defend projects of any kind would be that they were small in number, and that each had been ruthlessly examined by local and other experts so as to see which were worth pursuing and which were not worth trying at all.
The Government, in face of hard facts, are being brought to certain definite conclusions. They do not yet know—any more than we of the Conservative Party claim to know—what is needed to conquer Africa, although only a week or two ago the Minister of Food said they did. Britain's rule and co-operation in Africa is of very short duration compared with the immense history of that great continent. We do not know what is needed to conquer Africa, but we believe that patience, experiment and humility are helpful virtues. It is largely because we see no sign of any of those virtues in this scheme that I beg to move the Motion.
I beg to second the Motion.
The statement which the Secretary of State for the Colonies had to make to the House on 28th February came as a great shock to the country. But Ministers cannot pretend that they did not have due and repeated warnings of what some shrewd people thought was happening in the Gambia. I looked through HANSARD last night and I was appalled at the number of questions I had addressed on this scheme. For more than a year we have been expressing doubts about the sound- ness of this project, but on each occasion Ministers have blandly misled this House. I will give one or two examples which my hon. Friend did not mention.
On 26th April last year the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs assured us that this scheme was starting off very successfully. On 12th May last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that he had authorised the expenditure of 262,000 dollars on the purchase of American equipment and hatching eggs. So he also, at that time, was well sold on this scheme. On 21st June last year the Minister of State assured us that this poultry farm would very soon be on a self-supporting basis, growing good crops to feed the hens.
On 23rd October the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food told us that he hoped to receive a quarter of a million eggs by the end of last year. On 31st January this year the Minister of Food admitted that he had received 38,500 eggs but hoped for increased quantities this year. In addition, imports of dead poultry amounted to 4,360 tons. Then, on 28th February, came the confession of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that the scheme would have to be modified considerably, that we should lose most of our money, and that no more shipments would be made beyond an additional 7,000 tons of dead poultry.
Dead and dying poultry seem to be the main features of this scheme. Some 30,000 died of typhoid last summer. If I ran my poultry like that, I should have been prosecuted long ago by the R.S.P.C.A. Incidentally, I am glad to reflect that my hens produced more than 38,500 eggs last month, let alone last year.
No doubt this Gambia scheme looked very fine on paper to someone who knew nothing about the tropics and nothing about keeping hens. Clear 10,000 acres of bush, grow sorghum at the rate of 800 lb. to the acre which would feed 200,000 hens who would produce 20 million eggs and one million lb. of table poultry a year. With the sorghum grown at 4d. a lb., eggs could be put on board ship at 2s. 9d. a dozen, and dressed poultry at 2s. a lb. That is a perfect theoretical calculation. It can be worked out from American text books. We should all make a fortune and we should have eggs and poultry galore.
Shades of Whitaker Wright, Jabez Balfour and Horatio Bottomley. They knew how to sell a bright idea but, in the end, they had to answer to the courts. What they missed in their generation! What a time they could have had with the Overseas Food Corporation or the Colonial Development Corporation and with the taxpayers' money flowing like water. The basic trouble with this scheme in the Gambia, as with the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika, is that no one paused to make proper investigations of the practical problems which had to be solved. Any commercial firm or person would, first of all, find out something about the soil. Would it grow enough crops of the right kind at a reasonable cost to feed the hens?
In the Gambia there was already an object lesson at hand in the shifting patch cultivation which the Gambian native has to adopt. He cannot grow enough to feed his family properly, and year by year what is called the "hungry season" has been growing longer and longer. Indeed, so serious had this problem become that the Medical Research Council sent a research team out to the Gambia and, very properly, we have been spending £52,000 in trying to find out what is wrong with the soil, and seeing if we can help the native to grow better crops and to maintain a more satisfactory level of nutrition for himself and his family.
Mr. Phillips, the bulldozing American who was selected by Lord Trefgarne to run this scheme, had, of course, no use for the Medical Research Council and what they were doing. Indeed, it was not until 9th February this year that the Council sent a memorandum to the manager of the poultry farm in the Gambia passing on the results of their cropping and fertiliser trials.
Thanks to the co-operation of the Foreign Secretary we have had an opportunity of looking at this memorandum in the Library. It is signed by Dr. R. A. Webb, who is one of the team engaged on human nutritional research for the Medical Research Council. It is a most interesting document. Dr. Webb is, of course, looking at this problem of the soil and the cropping in the Gambia from the point of view of human nutrition,
but it is absolutely the same problem into which the Colonial Development Corporation have run headlong.
What happens in the Gambia is that the native clears a bit of bush and crops it for about five years. Each year after the first he gets poorer crops and, finally, he has to abandon it and let nature take charge in restoring some fertility. It may be that nature takes charge for 40 years, a long rotation, until natural fertility has been restored again to that soil. What Dr. Webb was concerned about—as, indeed, the Colonial Development Corporation must be concerned—is whether it is possible to maintain a decent level of fertility by developing a crop rotation. Here in this country the success of our cropping depends on having a well-developed rotation and that, in turn, depends on growing crops in the rotation which will restore some of the fertility, particularly legume crops.
The trouble in the Gambia is that the groundnut grown ther is deficient in the root nodules that will take nitrogen from the air, and the groundnut is a poor agent for restoring soil fertility. So, as Dr. Webb points out in his memorandum, the soil of the Gambia is markedly deficient in nitrogen and also in various other elements necessary to full crop growth. The soil is deep sand and the rainfall intense, reaching two inches in an hour. That rules out the economic application of fertilisers such as we use in this country, because their virtue is quickly washed out of the top-soil. So Dr. Webb, in the memorandum prepared on behalf of the Medical Council, and sent to the Colonial Development Corporation, points out clearly the fundamental trouble in the Gambia, whether we are trying to grow crops for human beings or hens. He says:
The population of the Gambia is reaching, if it has not already reached, a level above which the land is unable adequately to supply the food required for reasonable living standards. Attempts to increase food production by more extensive cultivation, particularly if produce is exported, will wreck the efficiency of the shifting system and precipitate a rapid decline in fertility.
That is the warning which the scientific worker employed by the Medical Research Council has had to give to the Colonial Development Corporation. What a pity such considerations were not in the minds of the Corporation before they
started this scheme. Of course, the troubles that affect the Gambian's patch of cultivation are much aggravated in the 10,000 acre block we have cleared from the bush. This has created a sandy desert where erosion by wind and rain quickly destroys any natural fertility. No wonder we have not been able to feed our poultry properly; no wonder that they have been dying left and right.
Some people may say "It is all unfortunate, but what a fine thing we have done for the Gambia." Dr. Webb and the Medical Research Council do not think so. It looks as if we have merely helped the people of the Gambia to starve themselves quicker than they would otherwise have done; the hungry season becomes longer and longer, and nothing we have done has shown the Gambian how he can grow better crops for himself and raise his standard of nutrition. Virtually no benefit has so far accrued to the Gambian.
Men and women from the Bahamas were brought in to run this scheme. They had been working on a similar scheme under the direction of Mr. Phillips before. He brought them over to the Gambia. It was the intention that the work should be handed over to the natives of the Gambia, but no—Mr. Phillips did not trust the Gambians with his precious hatching eggs and his precious poultry.
Now we have to learn something from this costly fiasco. The Colonial Development Corporation, and any other Government corporation that are prowling around for likely projects that will benefit mankind, must apply the elementary rules that guide commercial enterprises. It is utter folly to attempt to embrace 50 novel schemes in a period of two years. Indeed, the boast of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, made the other day, that the C.D.C. had started over 50 schemes, condemns the Government and the C.D.C. out of his own mouth. All these projects could not possibly have been thoroughly investigated by competent people. The essential preliminary work has been sacrificed for the sake of making a show quickly. Well, what a show we have made in the Gambia!
People may say, "But look what we are doing to develop the Empire." Half-baked schemes like this set back the cause of Empire development. They do not set a good example to anyone to go and do likewise. Surely, all these Colonial Development Corporation projects must be assessed by practical men who know something about the tropics, about growing sorghum or about raising poultry or whatever the particular project may be.
I am nearing my conclusion, and I have not a first-hand knowledge of Mr. Phillips. No doubt the Secretary of State for the Colonies has that knowledge.
We must get all these schemes, however promising they look, vetted properly by men who know something about the tropics, about rainfall, or about producing poultry or whatever the project may be. There is always someone, somewhere in the world, who has done, or who has tried to do, something similar, maybe with success, or maybe not. There is always advice to be got which is based on experience. These are the men whose opinions must be sought out and tested before a novel project is started.
In most cases, it would be best to effect a partnership between the Colonial Development Corporation and private enterprise, so as to bring the profit motive into play. That would be the best guarantee against more of these disappointments. It is all very well for a Government Corporation to accept schemes on the basis that if one does not pay, another one will pay. That is terribly deceptive. The manager of each will be thinking that it does not matter if his particular scheme is. "in the red" because somebody else's will be paying well, but there comes a day of reckoning when too many schemes are "in the red" and the total looks very nasty.
Can the House be assured that there are now on the Board of the Colonial Development Corporation practical men capable of making a critical assessment of new projects and of keeping a careful watch on the project that has been started? In this House we have a duty to the taxpayers of the country no less than to the peoples of the Colonial Empire. We know now how things can go wrong, and many of us know, too, that we can place no faith in the practical wisdom and business sense of present Ministers—I wish that we could, because they have heavy responsibilities.
There are, I am afraid—and I speak not merely for those on these benches, but for the country—present today Ministers who have shown themselves incapable of seeing that such enterprises are run successfully. So we must ask the House to approve the Motion. There can be no shadow of doubt that we are right to record our regret and dissatisfaction at the scandalous way in which this affair has been handled.
In October of last year, six months ago, we had a debate on the 1949 Annual Report of the Colonial Development Corporation. It was the first debate in the House on the reports of the Colonial Development Corporation. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) spoke for the Opposition on that occasion, as he has done today, and I want to quote the words he used in the opening paragraphs of his speech last October, so that the House may contrast them with the tone and spirit of his speech this afternoon. These are the words which the hon. Member used six months ago:
We have tried as far as possible over recent years to lift colonial problems out of party controversy, and we are certainly at one with the Government in wishing all success to the Colonial Development Corporation, and, indeed, in giving them a meed of praise to which in large part they are entitled."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October. 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2286.]
I responded to that and as a result, last October, we had a very good debate in which the central purpose, the general policy and, to some extent, individual schemes were discussed and considered by the House. It is interesting to note that in his speech of last October the hon. Member never referred to the Gambia scheme—he said not a single word about it. He had not thought about it then. Although he spoke for half an hour on the Report of the Colonial Development Corporation, he had no knowledge of what he has been speaking about today.
That is not true. When the right hou. Gentleman started to read out something I had said, I thought he would find something a little more harmful to me than what he has quoted. We have, of course, tried to lift these things out of party political controversy. This is a matter, unfortunately, on which the information now available causes us to realise what a terrible mess has been made. When we had that debate we were debating a Report which had the effect, although no doubt unintentionally, of wholly misleading Parliament.
At any rate, if these things were clear last October, the hon. Gentleman did not refer to them. The reason why I say that the hon. Member's speech today and the Motion contrast with the spirit and tone of the remarks which he made in October—both those I have quoted and the whole of his speech—is that this debate today is being held following a statement I made to the House two weeks ago. The Board made a report to me through their Chairman, and as a consequence I made a statement to the House that the Board had come to conclusions, which I do not want to repeat, but which were expressed in the statement I made. Then I went on to say that the Board of the Corporation is now examining in detail the report of the mission which it sent out at the beginning of this year to investigate the Gambia poultry and general farming scheme on the spot.
I then promised that when the Board had been able to complete this examination and to formulate proposals, for the future of the scheme I would make a further statement to the House. My first statement was a statement on an interim report received by the Corporation from the mission and on a preliminary report submitted by the Board to myself and I promised the House then—and that promise still remains—that when the Board had had an opportunity of examining in detail the further reports submitted by the mission I would make a statement to the House and thereafter the House would have the complete report before then.
If it is the desire of the Opposition to leave colonial debates out of party controversy, in view of the statement I have made that it is a preliminary report from the Board, I would have thought they would have awaited the final report before seeking a debate on a Motion in the House.
The Board are pressing on with their consideration of the Report and the formulation of proposals. I did not want to urge them, and indeed I did not urge them to seek to complete their further examination of this problem and submit their proposals to me in view of the fact that this debate had been arranged. I think it would be wrong for me to urge them to seek to come to a conclusion about the scheme until they have had adequate time to consider the report of the mission, which only came back from the Gambia to London in the week in which I answered the questions. There have been only two weeks to consider the Report.
I think the Opposition might have waited. The fact is that what they have done is to subordinate and surrender any interest in colonial welfare to partisan interests of their party. Moreover, we had the annual report of the Colonial Development Corporation presented last July and I indicated, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has indicated, that the Report ought to be available to us before July of the succeeding year. I promised the House then—a promise I have kept—that I would urge on the Corporation that it was very desirable that their Report should be published earlier and the Report for 1950 should be published this year, well before July.
The Report will be available in a few weeks. When it is available the House and the country will be able to judge this scheme as part of the general work of the Corporation, whereas now, by raising the question of this one scheme, what we have done is to highlight one failure without saying a word about the other schemes which have been of such benefit to Colonial territories. It is part of the age in which we live, apparently, that the only news is bad news and if it is bad news it goes on the front pages of the Tory Press. The result of this debate in Gambia and elsewhere will be to highlight the one scheme that has failed and the implication will be that because one scheme has failed the Corporation as an instrument and the whole idea of colonial development has failed as well.
If, on the other hand, hon. Members opposite had exercised some of the patience they have been urging on me and on the Corporation and waited until the Report was published, in a few weeks now, the debate could have taken place on this one scheme in the context of the whole of the programme and plans and schemes of the Corporation and a proper picture would have been given to the country. However, I do not attempt this afternoon to forecast what the details of the Report will be, but merely say that it will be available to the House. I hope there will be opportunities for the House to discuss the Report as a whole, so that we shall be able fairly, without bias, to discuss the work of the Corporation.
I now propose to deal with some of the basic conditions in the relationship between the Board, the Colonial Office, the Secretary of State and the House of Commons, because this is very important and was implicit in all that has been said already. Before doing so, however, I want to raise another matter. If it is Ministers who are referred to, Ministers are here and can answer for themselves, but the Chairman and members of the Corporation are involved and, therefore, I want to ask the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), who speaks under the privilege of this House, as I do, to whom he was referring when he used the words, "Shades of Horatio Bottomley and Jabez Balfour. How they would have enjoyed themselves." Was he seeking to imply that members of the Corporation are Horatio Bottomleys and Jabez Balfours? I wait for him to reply.
Since those gentlemen do not sit in this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "They did."] Since the members of the Corporation do not sit in the House—indeed, they are precluded by the terms of the Act from doing so——
I am not suggesting that any members of either of the Corporations are dishonest. What I am saying is that the way in which this thing has gone reminded me of the wonderful way in which the schemes of those gentlemen went in the past.
The very fact that the hon. Member associated members of the Corporation, by implication, with the people he mentioned, is, I think, a reflection, and I therefore ask whether he would like to withdraw it now.
That is a matter for the Corporation; that is not a matter for the Secretary of State to decide. If hon. Members will wait a moment I will discuss what is my relationship and the relationship between the Colonial Office and this Corporation, as was agreed upon in this House when the Bill was passed and, indeed, was urged upon us by hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is why I want to raise it now.
I think we must remember that it was the clear intention of Parliament, when the Colonial Development Corporation was set up that it should be given a large measure of freedom in the control of its operations. The view was expressed by hon. Members opposite, as I shall quote in a moment, that it was very essential that the Colonial Development Corporation should be allowed to operate freely without too much Whitehall control. May I quote to the House the words of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire? This is what he said on 6th November, 1947, when the Bill under which the Colonial Development Corporation was set up was under discussion in the House. These are the proposals in the Bill which, since then, have been operated in the relationship between the Corporation, the Colonial Office, Government and Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman then said:
My second criticism of these proposals is that they look like having far too much Whitehall in them…we are most anxious that these corporations should not take a rigid or a bureaucratic form."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 2107.]
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman then had in mind that the Corporation should have the utmost freedom to carry on its work with the minimum of interference from Whitehall, and, presumably, from the Colonial Office and the Secretary of State. I take it that that is his view.
Oh, I see. The present Chairman is not a Socialist. Is the hon. Member suggesting that the politics of the Chairman shape the relations between the Corporation and the Secretary of State? It shows how absurd it is. The hon. Gentleman is running away from what he has said.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald)—[Interruption.] I am quoting one of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, if he will allow me. The House wants to listen, if he does not:
I have always felt that a Colonial Development Corporation or board was the proper method of developing the Colonial Empire.…I have also felt that colonial development should be run by business men who understand business and finance. I have the greatest admiration for civil servants, especially those who give their lives to the Colonial Civil Service.. but I have always felt, and still feel, that civil servants, by their training and by their tradition, are not fitted to run business, nor do they wish to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1947; Vol. 443, c. 2074–5.]
That was the view accepted by the House. It was also the intention of the Government in the formulation and presentation of the Bill, and the relationship between the Corporation and the Government and Parliament is based on that understanding. I should like to explain to the House what it is. It is of importance in the future, for if the attitude taken this afternoon is the attitude of the Opposition the House must reconsider the relationship between the Corporation and the Government.
Under the Act the responsibility for the investigation, formulation and carrying out of the Corporation's undertakings rests with the Corporation itself. The Secretary of State has a general responsibility which I might summarise as the responsibility for ensuring that the Corporation's activities are in line with colonial policy, and in keeping with the general public interest. But the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office do not intervene in the day-to-day administration of the Corporation, or in its formulation and preparation of individual schemes.
It is, of course, true that the Corporation obtains its capital from advances made by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Treasury. Advances are made on the basis of applications submitted by the Corporation for my approval in respect of each scheme. While my approval is by no means automatic so far as considerations of general policy are concerned, it is the Corporation's own responsibility to satisfy itself as to the technical and commercial merits of a scheme. The Colonial Office does not make any detailed investigations itself into these matters. I should like the House to be clear about this. If the Secretary of State and the Government are to be held responsible for the detailed technical and commercial considerations of every scheme that is submitted, then the Secretary of State, and the Department over which he presides, must satisfy themselves upon those detailed technical and commercial considerations.
I am ready to give way at the proper time, but I want the House to face this fact and the realities of the case. This scheme 'began three years ago when my distinguished predecessor occupied this office. I have occupied it since and the relationship has been the same. We have carried out what we understood is the Act, and not only the Act, but the intention of the House in passing the Act; and, therefore, the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office has been that of the general policy, and the Board has been responsible for the detailed investigation, formulation and carrying out their scheme.
That is the relationship which has been established. In view of this attack, which is an attack upon the Government, because we see this afternoon—[Interruption.] Do I understand that the Opposition propose another change of Government, which heaven forbid? This relationship was created in 1948. The Opposition did not vote against the Bill; they voted for it; and on the understanding I have indicated is based the relationship with this Corporation of the Government, and particularly the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office. Do I now understand that it is suggested that relationships should be changed?
Do they now suggest that the Secretary of State and the Colonial Office, whenever a scheme is submitted by the Corporation, should be satisfied in detail on all the technical and commercial considerations, in any given scheme? I shall give way in a minute but I am repeating a question, because it is important. If they do then I must say this to the House: that the Colonial Office is not equipped to do that and if the Colonial Office and the Secretary of State, whoever he may be, is to be held responsible for doing it, the Colonial Office must be equipped to carry out that duty. So far, it has worked on the assumption that the responsibility assumed was implicit in the Bill and accepted by the House and that has operated ever since. Do the Opposition suggest that in future the Secretary of State must make himself responsible for all the technical and commercial considerations before a scheme is arranged?
I do not quarrel with what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the relationship, but what we do take exception to, and what I repeated in my speech, is the constantly misleading information given by the Minister to Parliament. Whoever has been advising him, he has given the information, and he must accept the responsibility.
Let me make this perfectly clear. All the information on the Corporation's schemes given by Ministers in this House is received from the Corporation—[HON. MEMBERS:"NO."]—all the information given in answer to Questions and in debates is information supplied by the Corporation.
The Minister ha: talked the whole time about the examination of the scheme at its inception. Will he say, if it is indeed the fact that he has received a large quantity of information about the scheme going wrong, as indeed was received about the Groundnut Scheme and about this scheme, at what moment it is his duty, having a financial responsibility, to intervene and tell this House? Is it when the scheme starts going wrong that the relationship between the Minister and the Corporation comes into it, or is he proposing to shelter himself behind this facade and not give the House the truth about things?
I am not sheltering myself behind anything. I am stating what was the accepted view. If that relationship is to be changed the Secretary of State must have available in his Department the staff required in order to carry out all this investigation. On the other hand, if any outside information at any time comes to me and the Colonial Office about any of the schemes it is our duty—and we should do it at once—to bring it to the attention of the Board.
The right hon. Gentleman has raised an extremely interesting point. Is not this parallel with civil aviation where we have the B.E.A.C. and the British Overseas Airways Corporation, two bodies set up by the Government, and we have in this House a Parliamentary Secretary who answers for those two Corporations? Surely it is the same in this case.
I should not like to compare them in detail. I should not like to trust to my memory, but, roughly speaking, the relationship between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Overseas Development Corporation is similar to the relationship between the Minister of Civil Aviation and those Corporations.
I have described what has been, for the last three years ever since the Corporation was set up, the distribution of responsibility between the Corporation, the Board, the Colonial Office and the Government. That has been perfectly well understood by the Board as well as by the Government. Therefore, I suggest that if the view now being put forward is that the Secretary of State must hold himself responsible, then the whole conception of the original scheme has been changed. The Secretary of State, if he is to be held responsible, must also have authority.
I put a second question. If the Secretary of State and the Government are to be held responsible, is it suggested that the Secretary of State shall have power to determine himself whether a particular scheme shall go on or not? Is he to have power to overrule and to veto the decisions of the Corporation? That would be precisely the reverse of what this House has urged upon us. It has always been suggested that the consideration of this scheme from the technical and commercial point of view should be left to the Corporation.
I think that the present arrangement is the right one. It is the one urged by the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight and indeed by almost every hon. Member opposite. I gather from the speeches today that hon. Members opposite say that this is the fault of the Administration; the fault of Socialist planners; the fault of the Government. Is it, therefore, the view of the House now that, if a scheme of this kind fails, the Government are to be held responsible for all the technical and commercial considerations which hitherto, on what we regarded was the understanding of the House and the inter- pretation of the Bill, we have left to the Corporation? Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. When a Bill is before the House they cannot say, "Trust the Board; leave it to the businessmen," and then, when there is a failure, say, "It is not the fault of the businessmen: it is the politicians." That is trying to have it both ways, and they cannot do that.
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not preclude himself from judging whether this Corporation is, for example, going too fast and trying too many schemes? Surely, at some point he must come in on behalf of this House and tell them to stop?
That is a general question. I said something about that when we had a discussion in this House last October. When I said that a new Chairman would be taken on, I made reference to that. That is not the question we are discussing today. We are discussing a Motion by the Opposition about a certain scheme which is still under consideration by the Board.
If he does not take responsibility for the work of the Corporation, does the right hon. Gentleman take responsibility for the statements that he and his hon. Friends made in this House to the effect that this scheme was going well until last October?
Yes. We take full responsibility for that. I am sure that earlier the hon. Gentleman heard me say where the information came from.
I want to answer this Motion quite clearly. Suppose by any chance this Motion were carried, and suppose that it was treated by the Opposition as a vote of censure. On whom is it a vote of censure; on the Secretary of State, or on the Corporation? Are we to understand that a vote of censure of that kind would also be a vote of no confidence in the Chairman and members of the Board of the Corporation? I put these questions very frankly because, the position having been accepted with the consent of everyone—it runs right through the debate we had last October—now, for purely partisan advantage, the Opposition have taken up this attitude.
I turn to the history of this scheme in the Gambia. Let me preface my remarks by saying that the scheme is still under consideration by the Corporation, as I have already announced. They have not reached a conclusion about it. They have not submitted a further report to me and, therefore, what I am about to say will be said in the setting that there is a further report to come from the Board. When that report is submitted to me, I shall make a further statement to the House.
I accept wholeheartedly my right hon. Friend's interpretation of the Act and of the intentions of the House. Up to that stage we are agreed. I should like to know at what stage the Secretary of State comes in. Is it if anyone is suspicious; if it can be proved that the Chairman of the Board is not acting in accordance with his instructions, or if his relationships with the Board are not as they should be?
If that question arises at any time, then obviously I would have responsibility, for I have the responsibility for appointing the Chairman and indeed the members of the Board. Therefore, they are responsible to me.
I was about to give in outline the history of this scheme. The Gambia is one of our oldest African Colonies and one of our poorest, and it presents one of our biggest problems. There are 300,000 people there and it has no mineral wealth. It supports its population mainly, indeed almost entirely, on subsistence agriculture and on one single cash crop. In my view, and I take it is the view of the House, the Gambia is one of those Colonies in which the problem of poverty is most urgent and in which, therefore, there are people who deserve our help as quickly as possible. With this in mind, because we had submitted a full report to the Corporation, in April, 1948, as the Corporation's initial project, Lord Trefgarne sent a mission to the territory to examine the possibility of establishing a large-scale poultry farm.
I do not know. It begins with the sending of this mission. I am telling the House the outline of the history of this scheme. I do not know the answer. Perhaps the hon. Member knows.
I am telling the story. In April, 1948, the mission went out to the Gambia. The mission consisted of an American with long experience of large-scale poultry rearing in the Bahamas, and an accountant from the staff of the Corporation. They went out, and they submitted a favourable report upon a project for a scheme such as the one we are now discussing.
No. I am now dealing with the history of the scheme from April, 1948, when the first step was taken.
On 12th July, 1948, the Corporation submitted to the Secretary of State an application for sanction for £500,000 for clearing 10,000 acres of bush and the establishment of a farm primarily devoted to the production of eggs and poultry. The Gambia Government welcomed the scheme, and, after consultation with the Treasury, sanction was given by the Secretary of State on 21st July, 1948.
Within this first sanction of £500,000, the Corporation obtained direct Treasury authorisation for dollar expenditure which ultimately reached 297,538 dollars, mainly for heavy equipment and for initial supplies of special poultry equipment and hatching eggs from a proved tropical strain. Clearing started in October, 1948, and, as it proceeded, the Board reported that more tractors had become necessary. It was therefore decided, on 18th March, 1949, to give sanction for a further sum of £200,000.
The initial hatchings in the spring of 1949 were said to be reasonably successful, and, by July, 1949, the site was about three-quarters cleared and 3,500 acres had been sown for a variety of food crops. Then, in August, 1949, the Cor- poration applied for a further £110,000 of working capital, which it then estimated would be sufficient to carry on the scheme until September, 1950. By that time, the Corporation expected, and indeed so informed me, that the scheme would be self-supporting and, therefore, on 31st August, 1949, that sanction was given, bringing the total capitalisation to £810,000.
In March, 1950, the first serious difficulties were encountered with the discovery that the first season's crops had been a failure. In other respects, it was stated that land clearance and building construction were almost completed, and that a temporary egg fertility set-back was then being overcome. In July, 1950, a review by the Corporation showed that there were healthy flocks of 79,000 birds, and there began small-scale shipments to our own country. The management reported in July, 1950, that they were confident that the right crops would be grown, and, against this background of what appeared to be substantial, if uneven, progress, approval was given on 22nd August, 1950, for a temporary loan of £100,000 as being the final requirements before the project would become self-supporting. Altogether, £832,509 had been withdrawn by 31st December, 1950.
A further report to the Board in October, 1950, showed that a severe outbreak of fowl typhoid had cost 30,000 birds, and that hatchings had dropped steeply. Most serious of all, sowing had been unsuccessful, and low crop yields were bound to result. It has been quite clear from the beginning that the economics of the scheme were based upon the practicability of growing in the Gambia itself the foodstuffs required for the farm.
I have said that the mission that went out was composed of the American, to whom reference has been made and who himself had been for several years a poultry breeder on a large scale, and an accountant, and that they made a report that they considered——
If the hon. Gentleman will wait a minute, I shall come to that.
In December, 1950, a further comprehensive review was made by the Board, they decided on a change of management, and sent out a mission to report. It was a mission composed of employees of the Board. As I told the House on 28th February, we received a preliminary unfavourable report from the mission early in February, and that report on future crop prospects made it necessary for the Board to reconsider the future of the scheme.
Now I come back to where I began, when I told the House that the Board are considering the future of the scheme in the light of further reports submitted by the mission which had been sent out, and, in fact, while we are having this debate. That is the position. The Board are still considering the report of the mission, and, in due course, they will complete their consideration, and will report to me and I shall make a statement to the House. I put this again to the House, because I think it is a perfectly fair point. This is not the time at which we ought to debate this matter, because I have not received the further report, and, therefore, I have given the House today all the information I have received from the Corporation. When I receive further information, then I shall convey it at once to the House.
In reply to the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Beresford Craddock), I would say that the project was started at a time when there was no experience of mechanical farming or of rotational cropping in the Gambia. About a year ago, a soil scientist was appointed to the Medical Research Council's establishment in the territory. His preliminary report, which became available last month, suggests that there are basic deficiencies in the soil which, until remedied, must prevent any successful rotational cropping. These conclusions are bound to effect the Board's consideration of the future of the scheme. I am giving the House the actual information; I am trying to give the chronological history of the scheme.
The question has been asked whether this scheme should have been launched in this way, or whether it would have been better and more desirable to have launched a pilot scheme. That is the problem. I shall come back to the question of the relationships in a moment. It is important for us to consider who should decide whether there should be a pilot scheme or not. Is it the Board? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] That is unfair and meaningless. Who has to decide? I am asking the question, because it is fundamental to the problem. I am not going to allow hon. Members opposite, for party ends, to get away from that problem, because it is important and because they accepted the scheme.
I ask again—Who is going to decide whether there should be a pilot scheme or not? So far, in the three years during which the Corporation has been in existence, it has been definitely understood that that is a matter for them to decide. If this House now wants the Secretary of State to decide, very well, then, we must change the whole conception of the scheme.
Surely, this is simple. Would it not be a proper policy to send a directive from the Colonial Office to the Corporation on all these schemes of policy to the effect that where the taxpayer is footing the bill, no grandiose scheme or capital investment in a big way should be embarked upon until proper pilot schemes have been tried?
So far, we have taken the view that this is a matter which should be left to the Corporation to decide. If the Secretary of State for the Colonies is to decide, then this House must realise what that means. In that event, I, as Secretary of State, shall ask, in fairness to my Department, for permission to equip the Colonial Office to do the job. I shall have to have people in the Colonial Office with technical, scientific and commercial knowledge in order to advise me on such matters. But, so far, the whole conception has been that these matters should be left to the Corporation. Indeed, hon. Members opposite have repeatedly said that the Board should do their own job.
Would it not have been prudent for the Corporation, before deciding on this scheme, to have consulted the right hon. Gentleman's own technical staff who know Africa well, and who, I have no doubt, would have counselled prudence?
It is perfectly clear that the Corporation can at any time consult the Colonial Office concerning any available information and advice about the Colonial Territories, Gambia and elsewhere, and also seek the advice and guidance of its advisers. But, having sought that advice, where necessary, the decision about the scheme is still the responsibility of the Board itself.
The late Sir Frank Stockdale was indeed one of the members of the Board who approved this scheme, but I made no reference to him for the reason that my hon. Friend pointed out.
The Colonial Development Corporation has now been in existence for three years, and, as I have already said, has some 50 schemes in operation. We discussed this question in the debate last October and also the question as to whether the Corporation ought to pause or not. The hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson Stewart), was one of the people who continually urged that. I then indicated to the House that, when appointed, the new Chairman would himself want to give early consideration to the future organisation of the Corporation, first, regarding whether there should be a pause, and, secondly, whether the organisation needed to be changed in some way. We discussed the question whether it was essential to have devolution.
There is also the question, which will have to be discussed at some time, though not at the moment, as to the future of these schemes. Indeed, one of the Amendments I had to consider last week was from hon. Members opposite to the effect that these schemes should be disposed of to private enterprise. But these schemes are in territories which are growing up in varying stages, and which will, we hope, eventually be self-governing, democratic territories, and that question has to be considered. But the most immediate question is that of organisation. I know that the new Chairman has been devoting himself to these problems, and, indeed, when he was appointed, I discussed the matter with him.
As I have said, we have now had three years' experience, and the Corporation has 50 schemes running in 20 territories, which is a big undertaking requiring an enormous amount of care and supervision. The Chairman is giving very careful consideration to what changes are required, and what form those changes shall take. He has already indicated to me that he hopes that the consideration which he and other members of the Board are giving to this matter will soon reach a stage that will enable him to give some indication in the Annual Report regarding the changes which they think desirable.
But those are changes in the organisation of the Board itself, in London and in the Colonial Territories. The Board is not considering—indeed, it has no right to consider—whether the fundamental relationship between the Board, the Colonial Office and the Government should be changed, because that is a matter for this House of Commons to decide. By moving this Motion, the Opposition have implied that they now want the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Government to assume full responsibility for all details. That being so, I say that the Opposition ought to be honest about it, because such a change would be a fundamental one in the relationship; it would change that relationship completely in a most radical manner.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way again.
When the report is published in a very short time, the House will have the opportunity of reading about all these schemes in these 20 territories, and of reading the Chairman's views about the future organisation of the Corporation. We can then discuss those matters. But, in the meantime, I should have thought that the right course for this House to adopt was to await the further report of the Corporation on this scheme, about which we have so far received only a preliminary report, and upon which I promised this House to make a statement as soon as I received it. I should have thought that if the Opposition were sincere in their desire—as was stated by an hon. Member opposite last October—to keep colonial debates free from a party controversy, they would have done so on this occasion, instead of subordinating the occasion to party advantage by asking the House to accept the Motion.
I put a specific question to the right hon. Gentleman, who indicated that he would reply to it. Apparently, the answer he gave referred to the relationship between his Department and the Corporation. However, I will put the question to him again, because I am sure he must have information on the point. Can he say whether papers dealing with this scheme, and dealing with one of the senior officials connected with the scheme, have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions?
I thought I had replied to the hon. Gentleman. I do not know what has happened in that respect, and, in any case, it is not a matter for me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] If hon. Members will wait a bit, I would point out that the man in question, to whom, I assume, the hon. Member is referring, is an employee of the Board. He is not an employee of mine. If anything has happened—and I have never heard of this suggestion before—the relationship is between the Board and the Corporation. What they do about their employees is a matter for them to decide because they are the authority.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies complained about the Opposition raising this matter now. Whatever he may say, I am quite sure that the taxpayer is intensely interested in how nearly £1 million of his money advanced by the Treasury to the Corporation has been used, and if we are not to give half a day to a matter of this importance, then I think we are failing in our duty as His Majesty's Opposition. No organ of the Press, so far as I know, has said that this is an improper matter for the House to consider. I would like to say more in reply to the Secretary of State, but I promised to be extremely brief because other hon. Members want to speak.
I happen to have important and even sensational information which was given to me by a constituent of mine, an Englishman who was employed on this scheme until early last year. I think it will interest the House. This information shows very serious mismanagement. I have seen and cross-examined this gentleman and I believe the information he gives is true. I am going to put half a dozen questions to the Government. I have already given written notice of them to the Secretary of State.
I shall put my questions in logical sequence, from the clearing of the bush for sowing the feedingstuffs up to the provision of refrigerating plant for the eggs and poultry, which unfortunately were conspicuous by their absence. First, clearing. I am told that clearing by Corporation tractors worked out at £27 an acre. That included removing the tree stumps, but later contracts were made with African contractors for clearing at £3 an acre. It is quite true that this did not include clearing tree stumps, but it was perfectly possible to sow by hand between tree stumps and, as it turned out, sowing by hand proved to be the better process. I should like to know whether that is correct.
Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) pointed out, the hopes of revenue from hardwood timber were falsified. The reason was that trees of sufficient size to be marketable were so few and far between that it was economically unprofitable to make the necessary roads and so on to remove them. That is admitted in the Corporation's Report, but why was the yield so badly over-estimated? Was there ever a proper survey?
Now I come to sowing. The Secretary of State admitted just now that it was unsuccessful. I can tell him why. I am told that sowing by Corporation machinery was delayed until some weeks after the rains had begun, with the result that the caterpillars which breed at that time came out of the adjoining bush and played havoc among the young shoots of hergari, guinea corn, hybrid corn and koos. On the other hand, the Africans who sowed by hand just before the rains had much greater success, because by the time the caterpillars appeared the plants were too strong to be attacked. In other words, the caterpillars by-passed the native plantations and—I was going to say they made a bee-line—they made directly for the Corporation plantations.
Another fault in sowing was that, as I am told, the supervision of the machinery was totally inadequate and therefore the machinery was not properly used. Native sowing by hand was much more successful. The net result is that it was a waste of money to buy the machinery at all. The Secretary of State said there were basic deficiencies of the soil. I doubt very much whether that is so. I believe, on my information, that even now hand labour could produce the necessary feedingstuffs.
Then I come to the arrival of the Rhode Island fowls. We were informed by the Corporation, in May, 1949, that they were then shortly expecting them. I do not know when they actually arrived but I am told that right up to the early part of 1950—I suppose long after they arrived—there was no veterinary surgeon in residence. I should like to know whether that is correct. My last point but one is about refrigeration. I understand that the refrigeration engineer sent out from England arrived long before the plant and that he had nothing whatever to do, that after he went home the plant broke down. One serious mistake was that no preparation had been made for adequate supplies of water for the plant.
Lastly, it is well known, but I do not think that it has been much mentioned in the debate so far, that there was great friction between Mr. Philips, who put the idea of the scheme into the head of Lord Trefgarne in a hotel in the Bahamas, and his staff. It was a common joke among the European staff in the Gambia that three seats were permanently reserved on homeward-bound aircraft for people who would be sacked before the aircraft left.
I suggest that the information I have given shows that the dissatisfaction of the staff was well founded. It is clear that when in 1950 the Corporation reported that the scheme was soundly conceived and well executed they were wrong. I should be glad if the Minister, when he comes to reply, will answer the questions of which I have given notice.
Before I became a Member of this House it was my duty to undertake great re- sponsibility in constructional work of a large nature and, as a result of many years experience, I found that if one made a mistake the best policy was to admit it right away and to try to make amends for it. All people of goodwill in our country must agree that there is great need for a body or institution like the Colonial Development Corporation. One of the most urgent needs of mankind is to develop as quickly as we possibly can backward areas throughout the world.
Therefore, the ideas behind the setting up of the Colonial Development Corporation should receive the good will of all people and their whole-hearted support. But if we agree with that line of reasoning it means that as soon as any suspicion arises it is our duty to take action right away in order that the institutions should not be unnecessarily prejudiced. It is on that basis that I want to make some observations and to ask some questions.
Before I proceed to ask questions may I remind the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary of one thing. Before the war it used to be the duty of Ministers who were replying to a debate to reply to important points made by speaker after speaker. Since the termination of hostilities that, in the main, has no longer been the practice. If we are to get the best out of our debates in the House of Commons and if the country is to judge issues correctly, I suggest the time has arrived when that pre-war practice should be followed again so that when we interrogate Ministers—and the right to interrogate Ministers is a great constitutional right of British democracy—and debates take place in the House Ministers should reply to point after point.
I have been thinking about this for along time. Last week a number of us on these benches felt most humiliated because very serious allegations were made from the Opposition Front Bench and no attempt was made to reply to them. I am very concerned about this, not only from a national point of view but from the point of view of our Socialist Party. If we are to defend our Ministers in the country, if we are to defend the policy for which they are responsible, then debates, and especially serious allegations, should be replied to at the time, point by point.
It is not necessary to say anything about the ideas which lie behind this
scheme. I wish to save time—I want to ask a large number of questions tonight—and, therefore, I am satisfied to rely on the leading article in "The Times" today which dealt with this matter. Perhaps I may remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that the "Manchester Guardian" also devoted a leading article to the question in which it said:
When the House of Commons debates the failure of the Colonial Development Corporation's scheme of poultry-farming it is to be hoped that criticism will be specific and precise.
We have not had that specific and precise criticism so far.
The questions I want to ask are these. How did Mr. Phillips come to be appointed manager of the Gambia scheme? Where was he appointed? Who recommended him? Is it a fact that the appointment and the proposal were made in the Bahamas? Is it a fact that a settlement was reached there on the basis of a salary of £2,000 a year plus a bonus? Is it a fact that, after all that had been arranged, the late Chairman then came to the Board, asked for their approval and strongly recommended it? Was it in order for the Chairman and Vice-Chairman to make arrangements for the Gambia scheme, to make the appointments and fix the salaries without consultation with the Board?
Is it a fact that the Board were consulted after the appointments and salaries had been fixed? Is it a fact that Sir Ernest Wood and Dr. Fowler reported to the late Chairman of the Board their grave misgivings about the Gambia scheme and that that information was never passed on to the Board? Did the late Chairman insist to the end that all was well with the scheme? I hope I am not wasting my time in asking these questions. Have Sir Ernest Wood and Dr. Fowler stated that they were most unhappy about the scheme for some time? If so, was that unhappiness reported to the Board? Is it a fact that not one adverse report about the scheme was put before the Board until the late Chairman was about to retire? If not, what is the explanation? Is it the case that members of the Board complained at meetings of the Board of their concern, with the result that the late Chairman agreed to conduct an investigation?
Did he report that all was well and that in that view he had the support of the "Daily Express," which had sent out an investigator of their own because of the suspicions which were prevalent in high circles in London in which we do not move? Did he then suggest transferring Mr. Phillips to another job in the Bahamas? Are there any names recorded in the minutes indicating dissent and uneasiness about the scheme? If we cannot tonight have an answer to any of the other questions, can we have an answer to that? I repeat it—are there recorded in the minutes of the Board's meetings anything indicating dissent and uneasiness about the scheme?
In view of the fact that Mr. Phillips was receiving a salary of £2,000, why was he promised a substantial bonus? The engineers would be very interested in the answer to that question. What was the amount of the bonus which he was to receive? Can we have produced the minutes of the Board's meetings after the appointment of Lord Reith—and let me make an appeal to the House that I hope not one word will be said which will reflect in any way upon the new Chairman, whose public spirit is acknowledged throughout the country by all people who have had any relationship with him. Did several members of the Board insist on an investigation after the appointment of Lord Reith and is it a fact that Lord Reith immediately undertook to conduct that investigation? Is it a fact that after the proved failure of the scheme it was then suggested that Mr. Phillips should be given another appointment at a salary of £2,000 a year? Is it the case that only five weeks ago it was proposed to transfer Mr. Phillips to take charge of farming operations in the Bahamas?
On what date did the Minister hear about these difficulties and these suspicions? What action did he take? Did he see the late Chairman and, if so, what was said? Does the Minister consider that the relationships between the Chairman and the Board are satisfactory? If not, what action has been taken or what action is it intended to take?
In conclusion I would say that I believe the idea of a Colonial Development Corporation to be a good one. Those of us who were cradled in this Party, and who heard those who have given their lives to it, know that for 20 or 30 or 40 years we have advocated what has now been proved correct—the urgent need for the development of the backward areas of the world. We know that throughout the world there are men and women as good as any of us, who are living on next to nothing and who have never had a chance. The time has arrived when, if the world is to save itself from terrible catastrophe, we must embark on large-scale development of this kind.
Those of us who hold those views most strongly, should be as alert as possible in order to see that, as soon as anything of this character occurs, we unveil it in the House of Commons in order that immediate action can be taken to ensure that our ideas shall not be prejudiced amongst our own people and throughout the world.
When the Secretary of State was replying to the Motion he accused us of making a party issue of this subject and of using it to attack the Government. He must have had his thoughts on that point set completely at rest by the remarks he has just heard from the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). It is quite clear that uneasiness about this scheme and disgust at the waste of public money is widespread throughout the country and we are doing no more than our proper duty, as an Opposition, in expressing the views of people outside and in giving the House the opportunity of discussing the subject.
The Secretary of State raised a difficult point as to what should be the proper relationship between himself and the Colonial Development Corporation, and I do not doubt that when my right hon. and gallant Friend winds up the debate he will have some penetrating remarks to make on that point. But it is only fair to say that we are still in the realm of experiment here. This big idea of a Colonial Development Corporation, of which we are all in favour, is a new idea and we have to find out what is the best way of proceeding. Quite clearly, however, somebody has to be responsible when large sums of public money are lost. We have done what seems to me the most straightforward thing we can by raising the subject today. Personally, I think that in the ordinary run of affairs the Corporation must be responsible for the detailed work, but at some point the Minister must accept responsibility for the money which he takes on his Vote for the Corporation. That is the real reason why we are moving this Motion today.
I should like to make one comment about the brief history of this story given by the Secretary of State. It concerns the visit of the survey party to Gambia early in 1948—that of Mr. Phillips and the accountant. How long did they stay in the Gambia? Am I right in saying that they stayed under a week? Am I right in saying that the whole of this vast scheme was surveyed in that short time by two men who had never been there before, that they came back home, drew up a detailed scheme, and set it before the Corporation, and that on that basis alone, the decision was taken to spend nearly £1 million of public money? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will answer that point when he winds up the debate. My information is that they were there for under a' week, and I think it is quite reasonable for us to come here today and say to the Government, "You are spending public money. You are spending the taxpayers' money, and we are just doing the best we can on behalf of the involuntary shareholders in this scheme to say what we think about the way in which you have spent it."
My own view of the schemes of the Corporation is quite definite. I do not think it should develop commercial units. I believe that that is the job of the private traders. By all means let the Corporation develop research stations, and so on, and if as a result, it is possible to justify the technical possibility of development, then the time has come for it to develop basic services of water and electricity supplies, and of communications; and when it has thus prepared the land, then let the private traders, either in the colony concerned or here, go in to develop the land. It may take more than this scheme before hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite learn that public corporations are just not constitutionally capable of bearing a trading risk. I shall have something more to say of that in a moment.
I should like to make one or two comments on the technicalities of the scheme itself. It was, as we have been told, to produce the large quantity of 20 million eggs a year and many head of poultry. If one were starting out on a scheme of that kind the first two things to ask would be: first, is it possible to grow feedingstuffs there? If so, what crops will grow? Second, is it possible to manage large-scale flocks of poultry in that climate in healthy production? The normal approach to the first question would have been to have made inquiries from the right hon. Gentleman's own Department, from its stations out on the West Coast, in Nigeria, and so on—to have asked them what sort of crops could be grown.
I do not believe any of these inquiries were made at all. Having got some information of what might be expected, the next thing would have been to set up a pilot scheme to see what could be grown; and the same with the poultry. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman's Department probably does not own large poultry units out in West Africa, but some information could have been obtained from other authorities, even in this country. So far as I know, no inquiries of that sort have been made.
What, in fact, did happen? We know that they started off without any consultation at all, and with the smallest possible survey of this huge scheme; and the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) has made on the Report of the Medical Research Station are the most damning comments the Government could possibly hear, because from them we see perfectly plainly that there is only the smallest possibility of feeding the poultry, and that in trying to do so, the Corporation would be really endangering the lives of the natives themselves.
In view of what the hon. Gentleman is saying now, I wonder if he would allow me to quote something that he said before? Perhaps he will now explain what he did not say then. This is what he said in the debate on the Colonial Development Corporation in October:
I believe from what I have heard that there are real possibilities in the scheme. This is no groundnut scheme. There are real, intrinsic possibilities of developing large-scale poultry farming. I understand that the climate for about half the year is good, and although I see that the Report for 1948 says that it is not suitable for Europeans, I am still convinced of the possibilities of this project. I believe the soil is fertile. I understand the rainfall is sufficient"—
The hon. Gentleman said:
…the rainfall is sufficient on average, although it is sometimes rather a lot and sometimes rather little."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT. 19th October, 1950; Vol. 478, c. 2310.]
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why he is no longer of the opinion that he expressed in the debate last October?
The hon. Gentleman has now had a chance to make his speech, and I am sure he is grateful that I gave way. In my speech last October I shot, as it were, at a still flying bird, and it is true that I only winged it; but the hon. Gentleman has not pointed out that I went on to say—and it was the main basis of my comment then—that in the best possible estimation it would be impossible to grow more than a quarter of the feedingstuffs required for the scheme.
In regard to the management of the poultry, I assumed it was a reasonable thing to put some credence in the Report. As far as we knew, the poultry got through the first year without encountering any serious disaster.
However, let me return to the comments I was making. Thousands of acres were cleared, and cleared in the most ignorant fashion. Here, I think, it is pertinent to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this fact, that the tree clearing team who were out there, of some 70 members—the whole lot of them—were sacked within 12 months of starting. They sent a petition back to the Corporation, which was received early in 1949, complaining about the insufferable conditions, particularly of management, they were enduring there.
As a result of that, I understand, Sir Henry Wood went out to try to pour oil on the troubled waters and to soothe labour relations, but finally, within 12 months, I understand, the whole of that tree-clearing team returned to England because the conditions of management were so intolerable to them. That seems to me a very serious affair. One might well be asking, what was the Corporation doing all this time? Was it getting reports? Was it considering circumstances like this very serious matter? Why was it not exercising some control over the activities of Mr. Phillips, the manager?
The question of the failure of the crops has already been dealt with, but I want to deal with the failure of the chickens. The chickens were laid out on a system there which was suitable for the Bahamas. They were laid out in small units, about 1,500 to the acre, in small, open shelters. In the Bahamas. I imagine, there is a moderate rainfall; they do not have the rate, anyhow, of up to two inches an hour. What happened under the system put down in the Gambia was that infestation from poultry droppings gradually was set up, and when the heavy floods came down, the whole of this area was under water. The chickens were practically floating about. They must have thought by then that they ought to have had ducks instead of chickens.
Not only did they lose a lot that were drowned, but there was started the infection of fowl typhoid. We could have told the management out there that under conditions of heavy density of poultry flocks in high humidity, fowl typhoid does eventuate. It occurs in some Welsh valleys, and in the Orkneys, and generally where there is a heavy rainfall and an intensive layer of poultry droppings. That disease could have been avoided if the best opinion in this country had been consulted before the scheme was laid down. On the rest of the poultry picture, I do believe, to give credit where credit is due, that the strain of the chicken in the first place must have been good, for they have had to put up with a great deal.
To bring these comments on the technical side to a conclusion, I would say that there is only one thing to do now. I understand it is being done. I understand that a man called Mr. Graves is now in charge of the place, and that he is trying to see if it is possible to grow crops. That, of course, is what ought to have been done to start with. He, I understand, is a man of great experience on the West Coast of Africa: he understands what is possible and what is not possible, and in due course we shall have some report, or the Corporation will have, on whether the crops can be grown.
What should be done with the poultry? There are still some there, and the problem of housing them in the wet weather has still to be solved. I think it is almost certain that it will have to be some sort of intensive system to protect the chickens from this extremely heavy rainfall, and to run on as a pilot scheme at the same time, until the cropping problem is solved. There is just nothing else to be done with it now except what should have been done three years ago when the scheme was originally conceived.
The main point that I wish to get over to the House is that it really is not the job of the State and State corporations to run commercial enterprises. I do not believe that they can be sufficiently conscious of the commercial risks. There is no denying that the main motive for this scheme was not a commercial motive. I do not believe that it was weighed up in the light of commercial considerations. Lord Trefgarne had the idea of a great poultry farm in the Gambia, and after that, the main object of the scheme was to prove that Lord Trefgarne was right. What a motive for spending £1 million!
If an ordinary person is starting a business he must put up his own money; if he has not enough to cover the whole scheme he must borrow the rest. Thereafter in everything he does in developing his business, he is conscious that he is responsible for preserving his own money and the money he has borrowed, and paying interest and repaying the loan finally, and responsible also for winning his own living by making a profit out of the scheme. That means, quite obviously, that he is conscious of the commercial risk all the time he is working the scheme; he has that as the spur both to his endeavour and as the guardian of his judgment to see that he does not spend the money extravagantly. He has, on the other hand, the incentive of making a profitable living.
Is it possible to reproduce those conditions in a public corporation? Quite obviously, it is not. In a public corporation one can never get that live consciousness of the person in his own private concern. Let nobody think for one minute that the average business is a business with millions of pounds behind it. The average business of this country, on which the fabric of our commerce and trade depends, is the small man business, and the small man is the man who has to borrow the money to start with and is dependent on his profits for his living. The only connection between that sort of management and the management here, is that those men have, by their skilful management, to pay the losses that this kind of scheme makes by its bad management.
I conclude by saying that I hope hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will have realised from this disastrous experiment that it really is not the job of State organisations to set out on commercial units. Let them stick to their proper schemes of research, development and basic services and leave the commercial units to the private trader, and then we shall have success both for them and for the country as a whole.
I am sorry to have to get up as early as this in the debate but, as hon. Members know, it is due to finish at seven o'clock and I have promised to sit down about five minutes before that to give the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) an opportunity to reply. I therefore have a very short time in which to reply to a very large number of questions.
First let me deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). He, I understand, says that it is the duty of private corporations to engage in such activities as poultry farming—and indeed to engage in all business activities—but it is not the duty of public corporations. I am interested that he should say this, because in this respect he apparently differs from his hon. Friends, all of whom supported the formation of the Colonial Development Corporation which was a public corporation designed for this specific purpose.
I have two other sets of questions to answer in particular, and first I will reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). I am sorry that he gave me no notice of his questions, and as they deal with detailed matters of which only the Board can be expected to have knowledge immediately, and of which neither I nor the Colonial Office can be expected to have detailed knowledge, I cannot reply to the greater number of them. I think it is very much better that the answers to them should be left until we debate the Report of the Corporation.
Far different is the case of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling). He had the courtesy to send me the questions he was going to raise. I have been in touch with the Corporation and am able to answer them. I shall answer quite a number of them. First, he asked: Did the clearing by Corporation machinery cost £17 per acre, including the removal of stumps, while later contracts were made for clearing by hand, exclusive of stumps, at £3 per acre. The answer is that the total cost of the clearing including stump removal by Corporation machinery was roughly £17 per acre. A later contract for felling only was made at £4 per acre; that was for felling only and not the removal of stumps, so the two things are not comparable.
His second question was: Did the timber sent to the saw mill ever appear in the accounts?
The hon. Gentleman asked: Did the timber sent to the saw mill ever appear in the accounts? That is an important question, the answer to which is that it did appear in the accounts.
The hon. Gentleman found the answer just in time. Another question that he did not ask on the Floor, but of which he gave me notice and which I should like to answer was: Was the timber sold to an African for export to Dakar and sent to Bathurst at heavy cost to the Corporation ever paid for? The answer is: timber was regularly shipped direct to Dakar by the Corporation and successfully sold there.
I must say, it is a curious state of affairs when my hon. Friend does not give the notice of questions which he is going to ask and the hon. Gentleman does give me notice of questions which he is not going to ask.
May I comment on that? Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to answer only the questions which I asked on the Floor of the House and no others. He seemed to be listening to me, and I put the points very clearly. It does not seem to me that he is entitled to make capital out of answers to questions which I did not ask.
The point is that the Corporation did in fact appoint the Animal Health Trust as advisers to the project in December, 1948. The Director of their Poultry Research Station was first called on to visit the farm in March, 1950, when the problem of egg infertility arose due to vitamin deficiencies in the diet. This was remedied. No fowl disease of any kind occurred until August, 1950, when fowl typhoid caused the loss of 30,000 birds before vaccine overcame it.
The Corporation appointed a full-time veterinary officer at the end of 1950. There is a veterinary officer appointed by the Governor of the Gambia who was also consulted as need arose. Broadly speaking, the position is that there is a general practitioner available, and he is consulted in the first instance. If anything occurs which requires the experience of a man who deals specifically in poultry diseases, he is sent for, after the general practi- tioner has given his opinion. That in fact is what is done in most cases of human disease.
I have answered quite a number of the hon. Gentleman's question. I would in the few minutes available to me like to make one point clear. The whole of this debate on the part of Opposition Members has been designed to cast blame on one man alone—upon the late Chairman of the Corporation, Lord Trefgarne. That has been done deliberately, because hon. Members opposite know that he previously belonged to the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, and that he had been a member of His Majesty's Government. It has been doen for that purpose and that purpose alone.
I want to make this point clear. There are on this Board a number of people with business experience. I make no apology for reading their names. There is, for instance, Mr. Robin Brook, who was a member of the Court of Directors of the Bank of England. There is Mr. Hubert Nutcombe Hume, Chairman of the Charterhouse Investment Trust, Limited, and there was Sir Miles Thomas, Director and General Manager of Morris Commercial Motors.
If I may say so, of all the really childish remarks, I have never before heard one quite as childish as that. These people are appointed for their commercial experience. They take the general responsibility for the commercial management of the Colonial Development Corporation.
I have been asked about technical knowledge. I would remind the House that one of the members of the Corporation was none other than the gentleman now on the Liberal Benches in the House of Lords—Lord Milverton—who was a previous Governor of the Gambia, and who may be expected to have some experience of conditions in the Gambia. All these gentlemen were members of this Corporation, and they share the responsibility. If they said nothing at all and simply sat and waited while the Chairman carried out all these various activities, is it to the credit of these men who represent big business—who represent the business enterprises of which we are told that we should have more in the Colonial Develop- ment Corporation? These are the men who have been in charge of the Corporation and the men upon whom the responsibility must fall.
I maintain, as the Secretary of State has said, that once these men are appointed it is the duty of the Colonial Office and the duty of my right hon. Friend to leave matters of business administration to them. It is their duty to settle these things. It is their business to deal with the business administration, and if there has been a failure they must accept equal responsibility. I am certain that hon. Gentlemen opposite will feel that if they have a right to attack the Chairman of the Corporation and to place the whole of the blame upon him, it is only fair that these others, who are also members of the Corporation, should bear the burden.
I hope that will be remembered, and I hope that at the same time we shall remember that this is only one scheme. I could go on at great length describing schemes that are being successful; schemes that already are bringing in a profit after such a short time. This particular scheme is only one of many schemes totalling some £30 million and more, and I think, therefore, that for the Opposition to condemn the whole of the work of the Colonial Development Corporation—to pour scorn upon us for this one scheme alone—shows, as my right hon. Friend said, that they initiated this debate for party ends and party ends alone.
I am very sorry that the debate should have been cut so short owing to our preliminary discussions today, which is certainly not the fault of hon. Members on this side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, later in the Session, come back to this problem, because it is an important one, and several hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as hon. Members on this side have not had an opportunity of taking part in the debate. I would like to disabuse the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs straight away of the idea that the reason why we are having this debate was because of any personal or party hostility to Lord Trefgarne, the late Chairman. It is not because he was a Labour Member of Parliament or because, before that, he was a Liberal Member of Parliament. In fact, he was our colleague during the war in the great Coalition, and we remember the work he did there. That has nothing to do with the questions raised today.
Nor, indeed, may I say to the Secretary of State, is it true that those of us who sit on these benches have changed the views which we expressed generally on the question of the Corporation at the time it was set up. We have not differed at all from those views. We agree with what the Secretary of State said, that this Corporation, if it is to be effective in its work, must work without day-to-day detailed control from Whitehall. We are all agreed about that, and nothing that we have said today has been contrary to that. In passing, may I also say, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that we wish well to the new Chairman, and realise that, in the short time he has been there, some fresh air has already started moving through the Corporation's headquarters.
The point at issue between the two sides of the House is a very simple one. The right hon. Gentleman said, in so many words, that the Secretary of State should see that the policy of the Corporation is in the public interest. On that we agree with him. The sole point is: When is the Minister to step in if he sees, or has reason to think, that the Corporation's schemes are failing, or that they have not been properly started? Is not there a duty resting on him?
I should have thought that one would take it a little further and that it was the duty of the Secretary of State to keep a general oversight of these matters, and, indeed, to do something which no Socialist Minister, so far as I can see during the whole of the years since 1945, ever has done, namely, to exercise a little imagination, and to say to himself, "I wonder whether so and so is getting along all right. After all, they are using public money and have already had £850,000 for this particular scheme." Is he to wait in his office until such time as he gets a report and only then show any interest?
I am suggesting nothing of the kind. What I am saying is that if we have a Secretary of State, a Minister of State and an Under-Secretary of State personally responsible to the Crown for the general oversight, welfare and development of the Colonial Empire, who may be assisted by the Corporation set up by the House in a certain part of the work, they must have the final responsibility. There is no question of having inspectors or people from Whitehall going out, turning over the stones and exploring the avenues for them. I am suggesting that it is their direct responsibility to ask how things are going on.
It happens to be an inaccurate report according to the further information given to the House on 28th February. Is not the right hon. Gentleman lucky that I am not the Minister of Food and do not say to my interrupters that they are suffering from mental trouble?
That is part of the argument that has been put up, that the information previously given was not ample and was not necessarily entirely correct. Why did it not occur to the Secretary of State in the years when the scheme was going forward to ask what advice had been given, whether any soil tests had been made and whether there were any pilot schemes? Why did they not ask whether any poultry growers in the United Kingdom had been consulted, which, we understand, was not the case? I agree that the right hon. Gentleman was not responsible for most of the time but his predecessor, Mr. Creech Jones was. But even if these questions did not occur to them, why did it not cross their minds while this parallel scheme to the Groundnut Scheme was going on, where the same kind of considerations were cropping up, which was certainly discussed in the House often enough, to say, "From what we have heard about the groundnut people, who did not have any pilot schemes or soil tests or take advice, let us be certain that West Africa is at least doing what East Africa has failed to do?"
We now find that none of these things has happened, which is why we put down this Motion, with which I should have thought every Member could agree. Do not Members opposite regret the financial losses of this scheme? We do not know how much of this £850,000 is to be written off, but the Secretary of State told us a fortnight ago that it will be a considerable proportion. Surely Members opposite agree with that part of the Motion. They must agree with that still more when they work it out, because on the basis of the expenditure and the number of eggs produced the cost per egg is calculated at £20 15s. 7d. That is a measure of the loss translated into the production of eggs. Surely Members regret this sort of financial loss.
The only other thing we ask them to agree with is that the collapse of the scheme is due to the fact that it had been launched without adequate consultation. That has been agreed. Everyone agrees that there was no consultation—they could not have consultation with the Corporation, because it had not existed long enough; it was a very mysterious arrangement that brought the thing into being. There was certainly no consultation with the poultry keepers, or any preliminary pilot schemes. We know that to be so, because that has also been admitted. We say that there should have been discussions on whether poultry could be kept in healthy production. None of these things happened. It is merely a plain statement of fact.
It is because we are horrified that these sort of things have happened, because there was no one in Government circles
with sufficient interest to ask the Corporation how it was getting on with the scheme to see that it was made a success, that we put the responsibility there. We do not expect them to look at every detail. Let no one be under any illusion that we are in any way denigrating colonial development. It is not enough to label a thing colonial development and then to say that whatever the waste of money and incompetence we must support it because of its label. We have to go a little further than that. No one has been more condemnatory than the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). No one could have criticised the scheme anything like so vigorously from this side. He knows better than anyone else how to criticise the Government, because he has done it before and will no doubt do it again. It must be admitted that there has been failure in the past. Because we consider that the ultimate blame must rest on the Ministers whose constitutional duty it is to see to the welfare and development of the Empire, and not to shield behind corporations, we ask Members to do what I am certain they feel, and that is to express regret at this waste of public money.
Is the right hon. and gallant Member aware that almost every remark he has made would be applicable to the Tory-sponsored scheme of Mona Dam, in Jamaica? In that case there was no pilot scheme and the whole thing was a complete fiasco. There were losses of precisely a similar kind, under a Tory Secretary of State, of some £850,000.
That this House regrets the financial losses" caused by the collapse of the Gambia Poultry Scheme, which had been launched without adequate consultation or any preliminary pilot scheme to discover whether the poultry could be kept in healthy production or the necessary feeding-stuffs grown in the Colony.